No Detail Overlooked
“Just one more match.” As I stare resolutely forward, careful not to catch a glimpse of anything that might tell me the time, I’m delighted to see one of my favorite maps loading up for the next game. Even if I were looking away, I’d know it was Dorado; my heart is lifted as the sounds of Spanish guitars, trumpets, and clapping hands fill the room and the hero selection screen appears. We don’t seem to have a dedicated healer yet, but we’re attacking this round so I decide to go with Junkrat. His ability to continually lob grenades in all directions is great for zoning and creating some space when you need to clear a path for your team.
Everything about playing Junkrat is entertaining. Even walking to an objective is hilarious, hobbling along as he does with a bump in every other step as he pushes off of a wooden leg. In first-person you can see with each clumsy step all of your grenades jostling and bumping into one another within the feeding tube of your homemade grenade launcher. If you follow behind Junkrat you may notice a subtle trail of smoke winding into the air from the tips of his ridiculous hair, which itself makes his head look like it’s caught fire. He’s my favorite hero right now, but yesterday it was Mercy, and before that it was Lucio. In fact, I can’t stop going through phases, and every hero seems perfect once you learn them.
At this point it goes without saying that the moving, shooting, abilities, and balance in Overwatch are practically perfect in every way. There are a lot of great shooters out there, though; it’s a saturated genre. What sets Overwatch far apart from the pack is Blizzard’s mind-blowing attention to detail. It’s the brilliantly shining faces of each facet of the playing experience that add up to make Overwatch a timeless gem.
Take the sound, for example. This is a multiplayer shooter, so I would understand a newcomer booting up the game and expecting the same audio-miscellany we’ve come to expect from almost a decade of somewhat homogeneous military shooters dominating the market, but they’d be in for a huge surprise. The singing trumpets of Dorado and chanting children of Africa’s Numbani make you feel like Overwatch is a global phenomenon; something huge that transcends languages and borders, and you’re a part of it. That feeling is reinforced as you hear heroes speaking English, Chinese, Japanese, German, Russian, and French as they respawn, unleash their ultimates, or otherwise banter idly. Overwatch is an outstandingly fun time because the developers put forth an outstanding effort to make the game enjoyable for everyone. Hell, even the sound the game makes when your shots connect was carefully crafted to be hyper-gratifying. I have to share this brief excerpt from the special edition source book about how one of the audio engineers created this unique sound:
“Another extremely challenging sound is the ‘hit-pip.’ When you hit someone, you need to know you made contact. The sound needs to cut through the mix but not feel like it comes from any hero. It went through tons of iteration. Finally, one night I thought, ‘It should be satisfying to hit an enemy.’ Just think about what’s satisfying: beer. So I literally opened a beer bottle. pssht. The sound is reversed and tweaked a little, but that sound is our hit-pip.”
Bloody brilliant. It doesn’t say so, but I’d bet money that the sound the game makes when you land head shots is actually the sound of glasses clinking together, reversed and sped up. It’s extremely satisfying tonally, and it really does give you this subconscious, Pavlovian pleasure response. Blizzard has worked its magic to give us the subconscious giggles no matter what we’re doing in the game, whether it’s pushing an objective, opening a loot box (which is every bit as gratifying as opening card packs in Hearthstone , by the way), or tweaking the appearance of your aiming reticle just the way you like it. Overwatch just wants you to have fun.
And Overwatch wants you to have fun with your friends. The game represents the accrued expertise of a company that’s been making the best online multiplayer games for over 20 years. Getting a group of friends together is a snap thanks to the social heading in the main menu and pause screen. When playing with friends you’ll notice you get a 20% experience boost from your matches, and speaking of Pavlovian pleasure responses, your first time booting up a match with a group of friends you’ll hear a familiar ding as you unlock a trophy or achievement for doing so. Perfect.
Social features, audio mixing, aesthetic unlocks that excite, options for the colorblind and disabled, celebration of diversity and open-mindedness represented through the game’s heroes… all of these things come to elegantly rest atop the rock-solid foundation that is Overwatch ‘s objective-driven, class-based gameplay. All of the other stuff – from options that could mean the world to a disabled gamer, to the frivolous bells and whistles – that’s all invisible to the average player. It goes unnoticed, and that’s how you know it’s done right. There’s absolutely nothing standing between you and enjoying this game.
And you will enjoy this game. Even if you’re not traditionally a shooter fan – even if you’re not good at shooting games at all – there’s a hero here that you can not only have a lot of fun with, but with whom you’ll also feel like you’re making significant contributions to your team. If you’ve come from years of Call of Duty , then you’ll feel right at home with Soldier 76, a straight-up assault rifle bulldog with an indefinite sprint and minor healing capabilities. If you’ve never secured an online kill in your life, then give Mercy a go. Her rod can heal and buff teammates, and once you look at someone and project your beam it will track with them, so you don’t have to have the best aim. Healers are very often the most valuable contributors to a team.
If at any point you feel like you’re not making forward progress or that your team is struggling, you can change heroes and pick someone new. After every death, or at any point when you go back into your base, you can pick a new hero and change up your strategy entirely. This is one of Overwatch ‘s best features, and it keeps every single match feeling exciting and new from start to finish. The heroes are varied, unique, and powerful enough to offer a tactical team experience that rivals the likes of Rainbow Six: Siege , but is more forgiving and encouraging of players to take risks and rethink their strategy at every checkpoint.
And that’s what brings me here: sitting on the edge of my seat, back erect and eyes wide as my match in Dorado comes to an explosive, victorious end. I look with glee and see that Junkrat and I secured the play of the game, and I can’t help but feel smug as the entire lobby watches the moment I turned the game around with my ultimate. I watch again as Junkrat heaves back the ripcord to a remote controlled tire filled with explosives. I drove it straight up and over a wall, launched it into the air, landed in the middle of the heavily-defended objective, and exploded to take out 4 defenders who were just about to secure it for themselves. I feel like I’m being lifted on top of virtual shoulders as my teammates upvote my performance during the post-game results. I clench my teeth as the experience bar shoots forward, stopping just shy of the next level and a new loot box. Foolishly I glance sidelong at my phone and notice it’s 2:40 AM. “Just one more match.”
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.6 Graphics
The heroes and stages are gorgeous and fantastically detailed. There isn’t a single boring character model in this game, and each stage feels like a real place with its own history. 4.5 Control
Lucio is a quick mover on skates, and Mercy can soar into the air and slowly glide to gain a better vantage point. Every hero controls differently, but they all feel fine-tuned and wonderful. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
This game is the magnum opus of the audio engineers who work at Blizzard. Each weapon sings its own, destructive song, voices are clear and give useful cues, and the music is varied and pleasant. 4.4 Play Value
There are three main game modes that cycle at random when playing against others online, but it’s the heroes and the variety they offer that keeps this game feeling always new. More maps and heroes, as well as a ranked competitive mode, are to be added for free. 4.8 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|